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Study tells genetic history of dromedary camel

"The dromedary has outperformed all other domesticated mammals, including the donkey, in arid environments," said researcher Faisal Almathen.

By
Brooks Hays
New study reveals genetic history of domesticated dromedary camels. Photo by Faisal Almathen
New study reveals genetic history of domesticated dromedary camels. Photo by Faisal Almathen

AL-AHSA, Saudi Arabia, May 13 (UPI) -- Arabian camels, or dromedary camels -- the single-humped species Camelus dromedarius -- have been essential the development of desert societies in Africa and the Middle East.

As a new study reveals, their participation in these societies -- the long treks back and forth across the desert -- have been instrumental in shaping their genome.

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Recently, a team of researchers from Austria, England and Saudi Arabia analyzed the DNA samples of 1,083 living dromedaries from 21 different countries. The results were compared with DNA sequences from ancient wild and domesticated camels.

"Our analysis of this extensive data set actually revealed that there is very little defined population structure in modern dromedaries," researcher Olivier Hanotte, a professor of genetics and conservation at the University of Nottingham, said in a news release.

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"We believe this is a consequence of cross-continental back and forth movements along historic trading routes," Hanotte added. "Our results point to extensive gene flow which affects all regions except East Africa where dromedary populations have remained relatively isolated."

As climate change encourages the expansion of desert regions, populations that live along the edges of the Arabian, Gobi and Saharan deserts may come to rely even more heavily on the camel as a source of milk, meat and transportation.

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"The dromedary has outperformed all other domesticated mammals, including the donkey, in arid environments and continues to provide essential commodities to millions of people living in marginal agro-ecological areas," explained Faisal Almathen, a professor of veterinary Health and animal husbandry at King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia.

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Almathen is the lead author of a new paper on the genetic analysis, published this week in the journal PNAS.

"The genetic diversity we have discovered, thanks to restocking from wild 'ghost' dromedary populations, is quite remarkable in the history of its domestication," Almathen concluded. "It underlines the animal's potential to adapt sustainably to future challenges of expanding desert areas and global climate change."

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